CEBU CITY (2nd UPDATE) — Charges against 7 individuals who were arrested following a raid at the University of San Carlos in Talamban, Cebu in February have been dismissed due to lack of evidence, a rights group said Friday.
All charges were dropped against the following Lumad evacuees and a teacher, according to the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) office in Cebu:
- Chad Errol Booc
- Segundo Lagatos Melong
- Benito Dalim Bay-ao
- Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at
- Esmelito Paumba Oribawan
- Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla
- Jomar Benag
In his resolution, Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis said the charges were dismissed because the complaint lacked evidence and probable cause.
Police took them into custody and accused them of child abuse and violation of the anti-trafficking in persons law.
“The dismissal of the complaints against the Bakwit School 7 validates our firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on Lumad schools by the state forces are baseless and unfounded,” said NUPL Cebu in a statement.
“We continue to assert that no amount of terror and intimidation will ever silence the people’s movement,” they added.
Police on Feb. 15 took into custody 19 minors from an indigenous people’s group based in Davao del Norte and arrested 7 others inside the university's retreat house as part of their "rescue operations."
Those held initially said they were just holding classes there when the raid happened. But authorities claimed there was recruitment for "future armed combatants" at the school.
Police also claimed there was no irregularity in the operation as some parents sought their help, saying their children have not returned home for 2 years.
As of 6 p.m. the individuals, so-called "Bakwit-7," were released from the Police Regional Office 7.
They immediately attended a press conference organized by the Save Our Schools Network. The Makabayan Bloc and other progressive groups were also present in the forum.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate believes that the fight of the Lumad evacuees and other allied groups does not end here.
“Inaasahan natin na ito ay temporaryo lamang, dahil siguradong gagawa pa rin itong NTF-ELCAC ng paraan para hubulin itong mga nasa likod ng Lumad schools," said Zarate.
(We are expecting that this will be temporary because the NTF-ELCAC will find a way to chase the people behind Lumad schools)
The lawmaker added that the House Committee on Human Rights would still push through with its hearing on May 26 regarding the individuals' arrest.
An NUPL lawyer, meanwhile, explained that while the provincial prosecutor released the resolution on May 5, it was only on May 12 that they received the copy.
Lawyer King Anthony Perez, among the Bakwit-7's counsel, explained that their release was delayed due to pending documents and the holiday on Thursday.
Booc, the educator who was among those arrested, expressed his gratitude to the NUPL and other groups who helped them.
“Maraming salamat, patunay lamang na iligal ang ginawa ng estado, kasi ganon sila ka-desperado para kunin ang lupa namin. Kulingin (kulungin) man nila tayo ng ilang beses, mas dapat tayong lumaban," he said.
(Thank you so much. This just proves that what the state did was illegal and that they are desperate enough to steal our lands. They may detain us several times but we will continue to fight).
"Patuloy tayo sa pagbibigay ng halaga sa karapatang pantao lalo na ng mga Lumad na nagdedepensa sa ating kalikasan. Maraming salamat, patuloy tayo at laban lang," he added.
(We will continue to value human rights most especially other Lumad evacuees are defending our environment. We will fight)
While Lumad evacuees and other progressive groups hailed their release, they said 18 other Lumads are under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Koronadal and the police in Talaingod in Davao del Norte.
POSSIBLE CHARGES VS NTF-ELCAC, POLICE
Lawyers of the Bakwit 7 admitted that they have yet to discuss whether to press charges against the country's anti-insurgency task force and the police who arrested them in February.
Perez said they are open to the possibility of doing such.
The Save Our Schools Network had said the Lumads fled their homes because of militarization in Mindanao.
They took refuge at USC as state forces "had threatened to kill teachers and students," the group added.
Human rights groups had slammed what they called as "fake rescue operations" in the USC campus.
— Reports from Annie Perez and Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News